There is no way to do the film version of Cloud Atlas justice in such a short and time-compressed review. This is a movie that spans almost three hours, six interconnecting storylines and enough ambitious storytelling to fill hours of debate and opinion. At first glance I can say this, Cloud Atlas is a film that takes serious chances with its narrative and while it doesn’t always pay off, it’s a pleasure to see ambition back in the movies instead of being fed the same cinematic drivel over and over again.
Early reviews have been comparing the bold vision of Cloud Atlas to other massive celluloid undertakings like The Fountain and The Tree of Life and while there are some similarities, they are not many. Co-directors Larry and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix, Speed Racer) along with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have attempted the impossible, turning David Mitchell’s dense 2004 novel into a cinematic sensory experience. There is time swapping, race swapping and even gender swapping to boot. Nothing is off limits when it comes to taking chances in Cloud Atlas and that is what makes it stand out from the assembly line.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant are only some of the hugely talented ensemble cast members who fearlessly play multiple roles, ethnicities and genders. At the start of the film we are given a short prologue of each of the six stories we will follow throughout the course of the running time. After that, the filmmakers trust you enough to keep up with the narrative, which isn’t a brain buster at all, but might prove tedious for some. These stories range from the dealings of a nervous businessman in the 1800’s to a vicious alliance in a tattered future society. Some of these stories are obviously stronger than others but even the weakest ones are never boring.
I haven’t read the novelized version of Cloud Atlas so I can’t speak to how closely it follows the original material but in reference to the film I have heard the words “impossible” and “unfilmable” tossed around. I would also like to add the words “brave” and “innovative” to the conversation. Cloud Atlas isn’t for everyone and will surely cause debate upon its release. Some will be frustrated by its pace and length and others like myself will see beauty in the madness. Regardless of where you stand on the film, the fact that real filmmaking is being attempted instead of playing it safe with sequels and reboots is always a good thing. Or in the case of Cloud Atlas, a great thing.
Rated: R (for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use)
Cloud Atlas opens in theaters on October 26, 2012 and was screened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.